Changing Lives

National Bank of Arizona Helps Legal Aid Groups Ensure a Brighter Future for Woman and Children

Arizona attorney January Contreras co-founded ALWAYS (Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services) in 2013 as a way to give those who have faced extremely difficult circumstances an opportunity to move forward in life. The Phoenix-based nonprofit—which is funded by various family foundations, the Department of Justice and individual donations— provides free legal services to those impacted by homelessness, domestic and sexual abuse, human trafficking and the foster care system in Maricopa and Pima counties.

“There’s a real need for people, especially young people, to have a lawyer. Different people are dealing with different obstacles, whether it’s a threat to their safety, not being able to move past mistakes, or finding an immigration path that works. People need lawyers. That’s what ALWAYS does,” Contreras says. An Arizona native who received her law degree from the University
of Arizona, Contreras is a longtime advocate of the underserved community. Through ALWAYS, she’s able to help victims of society’s ills navigate the justice system as they seek safety, stability, and self-sufficiency.

“Many of our clients are living on the edge. They don’t think there are a lot of options and are stuck in their situations,” Contreras says of the factors affecting ALWAYS clientele, 80 percent of which are women and children. Plus, they often have trust issues with systems, whether it’s the foster care system or the judicial system.

“It’s hard for them to trust someone who says, “I’m going to be here for you and I’m going to stick with you,’ ” says Contreras. “I’m proud to earn the trust of the people we serve and help them move from a point of fear or hopelessness to a point of achieving their dreams for themselves and their kids.”

An in-demand focus is working to clean up clients’ criminal records, especially sex trafficking survivors whose backgrounds prevent them from leading productive lives, according to Contreras.

“One of our clients wanted to volunteer at her son’s school, but couldn’t pass a fingerprint clearance,” she says. “A lot of times, clients aren’t even aware of the depth of their criminal histories or interaction with law enforcement from state to state. We try to piece together the details of their journey. Our client was able to tell her story to the judge, get her clearance card, and feel like a whole person again.”

As the CEO, CIO, CFO and managing attorney of ALWAYS, Contreras’ responsibilities include being a good steward of its financial resources. “Even though we are a nonprofit, the bottom line is we are a law firm that provides low-cost, high-quality legal advocacy,” says the attorney whose staff of four represents between 170 and 200 cases a year. “We’re careful about managing our caseload to maintain our standards.”

A few years ago, Contreras moved the organization’s savings account—and this year its checking and credit cards—to NB|AZ to avoid paying costly fees for common banking transactions, like
getting a cashier’s check. A quick response from the bank also makes it easier for Contreras to conduct business. “The personal attention I get helps me do my job more effectively.”

Helping Contreras do just that is Pamela Keefe, VP, Nonprofit Relationship Manager at NB|AZ. “As a bank, we want to be there for clients and offer them products and services they can utilize as they grow,” she explains. “But we do things differently. In general, we have nonprofit products that are sensitive to fees.”

Yet, the relationship ALWAYS has with NB|AZ extends far beyond simple banking transactions that are quick and fee-friendly. “We have set ourselves apart, advocating right alongside our nonprofit clients. Relationships are everything to us,” says Keefe. “We can’t write a check, but we can certainly advocate for nonprofit clients such as ALWAYS, like using Arizona Business Today and other marketing channels to spread the word about their mission.”

Most of ALWAYS’ clients are referred by organizations that already serve people in need. “We don’t really advertise our services. Instead, we depend on referrals from organizations like those who are helping homeless youths, young adults in foster care, and those in domestic violence shelters,” says Contreras. “We receive more than enough cases from our network. I look forward to the day when no one needs our help.”

In the meantime, ALWAYS clients have every right to the support they receive so they can start to rebuild their lives, according to Contreras. “I want to make sure we are there for young people when they need our help. They deserve our respect.”